Sunday, August 19, 2012

Guest Post :: A Guide to Socially & Environmentally Responsible Internet Shopping

The following guest post is written by Vincent M. Smith –PhD from Silent Springs.
A few years back sociologist Thomas Lyson coined the phrase "civic agriculture."  In Lyson's mind, civic agriculture is everything that industrial agriculture is not.  In civic agriculture communities and individuals are directly connected to the food they purchase.  In civic agriculture, farmers respond not to the whims of market and trade politics but to the needs and desires of the communities they serve.

What Lyson was really doing in his work was re-defining the way we think about doing business.  Rather than doing business with an anonymous world market, we do business with people we know and trust.  You and I have heard this response to global marketing before.  We hear it every time we wander down to our farmers market or attend an event sponsored by our local chamber of commerce or business guild.

Civic business requires community-oriented producers and retailers, but it also requires community-oriented consumers.  Community-oriented consumption is not new.  Hopefully we buy from our local farmers, perhaps we support locally owned businesses, maybe we even try to source locally manufactured products...but what do you do when the products you are looking for aren't available locally?  These days, if you are like me, you turn to the internet.

Trends in internet shopping suggest that when it comes to an internet purchase our social and environmental responsibility is temporarily placed on hold.  We use price comparison websites (essentially available only to the largest corporations on the internet) to buy exclusively on price.  Now I like a good bargain just as much as you, but when we shop exclusively on price on the internet, we end up purchasing from a company that has managed to set up shop in a developing nation where labor and resources can both be easily exploited. We may also end up shopping on a website owned by a corporation with thousands of websites.  These websites all have different domain names, they each have a unique color scheme, but they are essentially just large departments in one enormous department store (with a U.S. address actually based overseas).

Shopping on the internet does not mean you need to leave your interest in creating a better world at the door.  There are now a growing number of e-stores on the internet that permit you to develop relationships with the people behind the store and the artisans behind your products.

Silent Springs ( is designed explicitly for the thoughtful consumer who wants a great deal, but also wants to know that her or his purchase supports a responsible business.  At Silent Springs you can not only meet the family behind the retail and website, but you can meet the artisans that manufacture the products, you can learn about how the products are made, and you can shop without needing to abandon your goodness.

Silent Springs partners only with artisans with a proven commitment to social and environmental responsibility.  Thus, when you search for a great deal on a new skirt, you will first know that the artisans you will be able to choose from have all demonstrated an eagerness to do what is right in the world.

Please don't fall into the trap of industrial internet consumption.  Get to know the people behind the stores and blogs you support.  If you rely exclusively on typing in a keyword, scanning the results, and selecting what appears to be the best price, you'll support only the companies with the largest advertising budgets, those with the largest number of poorly paid employees, those selling products with the lowest quality, and those willing to exploit resources and laws to compete on price.  Find websites you can trust and support them!

Vincent M. Smith - PhD


Vincent M. Smith –PhD is the author of The Organic Times Blog and co-owner of Silent Springs.  Vincent is also an assistant professor of environmental studies and sociology at Southern Oregon University where he teaches and conducts research on coupled human-environment systems.